If there was a way to magically skip winter altogether, with all of its snow and cold air, there’s no doubt asthma sufferers would be the first ones down for the cause. Cold, dry air, as well as the common cold and sinus infections (more common during the winter months) can make asthma symptoms worse.
The seriousness of asthma, especially for African Americans, cannot be stated enough. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans were three times more likely to die from asthma related causes than the white population in 2013.
Dry air can irritate the airways of people with asthma. This can cause things that get in the way of winter fun, like wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Follow these five tips to help protect yourself from cold, dry air:
1. Create and use your asthma action plan. When an asthma attack happens there is no time to think about what you should do. Time is of the essence. It’s important to create an asthma action plan in advance that outlines what to do when your asthma symptoms flare up and when it’s time to seek emergency help. This three-step action plan is a great place to start.
2. Practice regular hand washing. The simplest way to prevent the spread of the common cold or other viruses is to wash your hands often and correctly. Not sure if you’ve been washing your hands incorrectly? Here’s how to wash them the right way!
3. Replace home filters. When’s the last time you checked your heating vents at home? Dust and debris collected over the months (and hopefully not years!) will blow through your house each time the heat kicks in, potentially triggering an asthma attack. Clean your filters often and replace when necessary.
4. Protect your mouth. The cold outdoor air is shocking to your lungs. Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth, like they suggest in yoga classes, as the nose helps warm the air before passing to the lungs. Also, your winter scarf shouldn’t just be decoration for your neck. Make sure your scarf covers your nose and mouth to also warm the air.
5. Exercise indoors. For most people, exercising indoors is the only option during winter, but those few brave souls that don’t mind the cold, this advice is particularly for you! Temperatures in your home or at the gym are less likely to trigger a flare. Be sure to warm up properly before working out. Studies have shown that people with asthma recover faster and have improved lung function after exercising when they’ve warmed up first.
These are all great tips to consider year round, but they are especially important during the winter when you are more vulnerable to asthma triggers.